A team of police officers and city of Olympia staff cleared a protest camp from the railroad tracks in downtown Olympia early Friday morning, allowing a train believed to be carrying ceramic proppants, or fracking sand, to pass through.
Protesters had been blocking the tracks for a week after preventing the train from leaving the Port of Olympia on Nov. 11.
As the train passed through the city about 7 a.m., some protesters threw items at it, and others yelled. Police in riot gear kept people away from the tracks.
One protester yelled, “This isn’t over. This is never over.”
Officers from the Olympia Police Department, Washington State Patrol, Thurston County Sheriff’s Office and Union Pacific Railroad Police were all at the scene. Officers arrived at about 4 a.m. and asked the group to leave. Most did, but those who refused were arrested, Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts told The Olympian.
Roberts said 12 people were arrested, but no one was injured.
Four people camped on the railroad tracks were arrested by Union Pacific Railroad police, and taken to the Thurston County Jail.
Olympia Police arrested eight people on suspicion of obstructing a law enforcement officer, a misdemeanor, and they were taken to the Olympia City Jail, said Lt. Paul Lower. Police said they believe those suspects are all adults, but some were refusing to provide their real names Friday afternoon. Once the suspects are identified, they will be booked, he said.
A news released from the Olympia Police Department issued Friday afternoon said that during the arrests, masked people supporting the group arrived at the scene from nearby locations and confronted officers. The release said that group began marching through downtown, blocking roads, dumping trash, throwing beer kegs and lighting recycling bins on fire. During that activity, officers used “pepperballs” and “flash bangs” to stop the behavior.
The Lacey Police Department helped cover calls in Olympia during the incident. Roads near the intersection of Seventh Avenue Southeast and Jefferson Street were closed until about 8 a.m.
Protesters at the scene declined to comment. But the protesters, who called themselves Olympia Stand, previously issued a statement saying that their overall goal was to stop the transportation of fracking materials to North Dakota, and they were showing solidarity with the ongoing demonstration at Standing Rock Indian Reservation against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
A group of about 20 people lingered near the site after the tracks were cleared. City crews began clearing the tracks, removing the wooden pallets and other items that had been placed there.
City Manager Steve Hall said the city and Port of Olympia tried Thursday to end the protest without confrontation. City Councilman Nathaniel Jones and Port Commissioner E.J. Zita went to the camp to talk with the group.
“It finally became clear that it wasn’t going to happen,” Hall said.
According to the news release from the Olympia Police Department, “Propaganda from this group found on flyers in downtown Olympia suggested they would be violent to our community if removed.”
But Zita said she was disappointed with the decision to clear the tracks Friday. She had hoped the port commissioners would be given a chance to discuss the situation at a Monday meeting.
“I thought we were on a path that could potentially lead to a peaceful resolution, so I’m disappointed that wasn’t given a chance to proceed,” Zita said.
Only the debris on the track and city roads was removed, Hall said. People will be able to pick up their items left at the tracks.
“Anything that looks like it has any value at all, we’re going to keep that and let people come and get it,” Hall said.
Hall said there didn’t appear to be major damage to the tracks.
The Olympia City Police planned to have extra patrols out in downtown Olympia on Friday night.